The smart home is coming.
The apartment that John Lewis has built on the sixth floor of its Oxford Street store isn’t particularly special to look at, and that’s kind of the point.
It’s just a regular looking flat, albeit one that hides a heck of a lot of technology connecting nearly every device and appliance on show.
As you walk in a Panasonic door sensor clocks your arrival, turning on an array of Philips Hue lights. A Netatmo camera recognises your face and ping’s the homeowner to let them know a stranger has arrived.
Luckily Alexander Hood, a plucky John Lewis selling assistant, is here to greet me today.
“When people walk in and see something that says ‘smart home’ it’s normal to see a little apprehension,” Hood explains.
He says most John Lewis customers grasp the concept of smart home – advertising from Sonos, Philips Hue and Nest thermostats has helped with that – but understanding how it actually works is a different story.
That’s part of the reason John Lewis decided to build a smart home – the other is that regular department stores just aren’t equipped to sell these futuristic appliances.
“There’s a fundamental problem when it comes to selling smart devices,” Domenico Leccacorvi, marketing coordinator for John Lewis’s brand experience, told The Memo.
“The lighting used to be on the 2nd floor, the coffee and washing machine would be on the lower ground, so if you’re looking for smart products you’re going to end up shopping over six floors to see everything.”
By definition smart home devices, whether connected fridges or smart lights, are better experienced together – something that traditional department stores just aren’t designed to do.
“Building an actual smart home is a way for us to show everything we’ve got so, if you’re looking for smart home products, this is the best place in London to come.”
So what does the apartment of the future include?
The most popular product, according to Hood, is Samsung’s huge £4,500 Family Hub refrigerator which boasts a 21.5in touchscreen.
While its massive screen may attract curious fingers, it’s inside that the real magic is happening.
The fridge is filled with an array of cameras, which both allow you to glance at how much milk you have from your smartphone wherever you are, and which track the expiry dates on fresh foods to ping you when something’s out of date.
Beside that is Nespresso’s Prodigio coffee machine that monitors how many coffee pods you have left and will reorder when you run out, and AEG’s ProCombi Plus smart oven which sends a live video of how your roast is coming along to your iPad.
“The idea is to show just how easy it can be for you, how it can save you time, money and make your life a little bit easier,” says Hood.
Finally, in the bedroom the S+ ResMed sleep monitor will monitor how well (or badly) you sleep from across the room, so now you’ll know the reason you’re so groggy on a Monday.
By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, the smart home vision that John Lewis is selling probably costs in the region of £15,000… but what a vision it is.
In the same way Ikea realised its carefully crafted iconic showrooms were the best way to sell cheaper furniture that might look tacky standing alone, so too John Lewis may have discovered the trick to persuading shoppers to brave a smart home future.
Its sixth-floor apartment is a valiant attempt to show off this new technology in a novel way, and to overcome the problem that traditional stores face with technology that, by definition, needs to be experienced in situ.
Whether or not shoppers can be convinced is another story.
I for one welcome our smart home showroom future, even if I can’t afford to live there yet.